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Immigration Debate Shifts To Texas Judge Who Blocked 2015 DACA Expansion

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

In a federal courtroom in Texas today, the debate over the Trump administration's immigration policies shifted from separated families to another group of young immigrants.

They are the ones who were brought to the United States as children and grew up here. About 700,000 young people were protected from deportation under the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Ten states, led by Texas, asked U.S. District Andrew Hanen for a preliminary injunction to force the government to reject renewals for young people currently enrolled in DACA and stop accepting new applications.

But Hanen did not issue an immediate ruling and asked for opponents and supporters of DACA to submit legal briefs by Monday.

Hanen is perhaps best known as the judge who, in 2015, blocked the Obama administration from expanding DACA to protect immigrant parents. As the Associated Press reports, the proposed expansion never took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court eventually split 4-4, leaving Hanen's ruling in effect.

The Trump administration has made it clear that it wants to shut down DACA.

In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to the DACA program, and since then the administration has faced several legal challenges seeking to preserve it.

"Most people expect that Judge Hanen is not going to look kindly on the DACA program," says Jessica Vaughn, director of Policy Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.

In today's hearing, attorneys for Texas argued that the state is irreparably harmed by a drain on state resources by DACA recipients, Houston Public Media's Elizabeth Trovall told All Things Considered.

But legal advocates for DACA argued that the states will have a hard time proving they have been harmed.

"Young individuals with DACA grants are living and working and going to school and paying taxes and contributing to local economies. So it is a net benefit to the states to have DACA recipients there," says Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement insisting that DACA is unconstitutional and calling his state's lawsuit challenging it "vital to restoring the rule of law to our immigration system."

The Texas hearing comes on the heels of another federal court ruling in Washington, D.C., last week which endorsed DACA. District Judge John Bates blocked the administration from shutting down DACA and ordered it to accept new applications. The administration says it will appeal.

Judge Bates is the third federal judge to oppose ending DACA.

The competing legal rulings represent an emotional rollercoaster for DACA recipients.

"You know this process is draining, it's exhausting, it's expensive and there has to be a permanent solution and a pathway to citizenship," says Antonio Juaregui of Fresno, Calif. He's a 21-year-old political science major who was brought to this country when he was 5 years old.

Juaregui said he first applied for DACA three years ago and he was granted a two-year extension earlier this year.

But before there is a permanent solution that allows DACA recipients to stay and work in this country, Juaregui says he knows there will be more court battles. Virtually every legal expert thinks the resolution rests with the Supreme Court.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.